Olga Romanova: How “Law Enforcement” Works in Russia

calvey
Michael Calvey in court. Photo by Maxim Shemetov. Courtesy of Reuters and Republic

“We Give You Serebrennikov and You Give us Calvey”: How Law Enforcement Works
Olga Romanova
Republic
May 13, 2019

“Who would make the decision about your arrest?”

“My colleagues would betray me, but they would vet it with my bosses.”

“What about Vasya [a big businessman]?”

“Cops, the economic security squad. It’s enough for the word to come down from the district office to grab him. Vasya is a respected person. He’s a thief.”

“And me?”

“You’re an enemy of the state. If the neighborhood cops can decide to arrest Vasya, the Secret Chamber, so to speak, would have to give the orders to arrest you. The decision to arrest you would be made by no one lower ranked than Bortnikov’s deputy, although you’re naked and barefoot, and no one would ask the prosecutor’s office or the Investigative Committee to go after you. It’s creepy and pointless.”

This should give you an idea of the conversations I have with my acquaintances in the security forces nowadays. It helps to do business with people who know the score. None of them is surprised when you ask them who would arrest someone, how they would do it, and when they would do it. Everything would have been planned long ago, and there are no illusions. If a person has to be placed under arrest and charged, it is going to happen. If they do not need to be indicted, they can be kept in custody for a while. No one remembers, even for appearance’s sake, that there are courts in Russia, and courts decide whether to remand someone in custody after hearing arguments by all the interested parties. Everyone knows the decisions are not made in court.

Who Makes the Decisions?
Who made the decision to arrest Kirill Serebrennikov? Who decided to let him go for the time being? Who arrested Michael Calvey and the employees of Baring Vostok? Who let them out of jail? Why? Who made the decision to arrest Mikhail Abyzov?

There is no one with whom you can talk about these cases.

This is not quite true. My sources in all the law enforcement and security agencies, who can be frank with me as long as they remain anonymous, talk to me about these cases, too, but they look really worried when they do.

Rank-and-file law enforcement officers are confused. They do not understand why someone decided to back off the Serebrennikov case so abruptly and quickly. The train was rushing the director and filmmaker towards a sentence of the four years or so in the camps when a powerful hand jerked hard on the brakes. The passengers jumped off the train, of course, for they didn’t want to keep traveling in that direction, but the trainmaster, driver, and conductors were completely at a loss.

What should they do with the next train and its contingent of VIP passengers? Should they railroad them, as they were ordered to do, or should they avoid hurrying the case? After the emergency brake has been pulled, everyone emerges with injuries and bumps. Some of the crew were counting on promotions after they had wrapped up such a big case. Other members of the crew were acting on orders from a celestial. He will not forgive them because now they know there are tougher celestials in the system. He cannot forgive the people involved in the case for knowing that fact nor can he forgive the other celestials for intervening. The passengers could not care less. Either they get to where they are going or they do not get there, but the crew is always aboard the train.

True, a smart alec from the Investigative Committee told me something interesting about the procedural aspect.

“Why is everyone so angry? The Serebrennikov case was sent back to the prosecutor’s office, so what? You saw that the court ordered a forensic examination. The first forensic examination was really crooked. The judge in the trial of Serebrennikov’s accountant, Nina Maslyaeva,  wondered why everyone was so glad. Serebrennikov’s case would now be sent back to the prosecutor’s office because his circumstances are the same as Maslyaeva’s. You are mixing up cause and effect. The judge in the Maslyaeva case cannot reach a verdict because he understands the outcome of the forensic examination, which was the same as in the Serebrennikov case, will now be different, and Maslayeva will have to be re-indicted in the light of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case.”

Translated into ordinary language, he means the case can still go any which way. Procedurally, all the cards are still on the table, and the haggling could continue. Things could go one way or the other. The powers that be could change their minds and send Serebrennikov to prison, but they could also let him go. They could arrest him again and send him down. The statute of limitations is a flexible thing.

Somewhere above the clouds, the thunder gods fight over the case. Invisible to the world, they communicate with ordinary people by making motions to conduct additional forensic examinations. Ordinary people make of it what they will. Police investigators are also part of the rank and file, part and parcel of Russia’s unwashed masses.

In ordinary times, this is not what happens to ordinary defendants in ordinary cases. Everyone would have gone down five years each per capita, and no would have batted an eye. In this case, the decisions are obviously political. Look who made the decision! Who telephoned whom? What levers did they use? Who or what did they offer in exchange? Freebies are for freaks, after all. We will return to this subsequently when we discuss other factors.

If the boring procedural hypothesis made by my anonymous source at the Investigative Committee is right, events should unfold as follows. The authorities will get the results of the new forensic examination in the Serebrennikov case. If the total damages are less than was claimed earlier (or, say, there were, miraculously, no damages at all), the charges against Serebrennikov and the other defendants will be dropped right in the courtroom. If, on the contrary, the sum of the damages is more or less hefty, a million rubles, at least, the defendants will be found guilty and sentenced to prison. Then you can appeal the verdict wherever you like.

No one would ask why a particular ruling was made. No one would ask what happened. Why are some people treated one way, while others are treated another way? The foot soldiers of law enforcement know the score. But when they do not know the score, they know it is better not to ask whether a mistake has been made but to follow orders.

How Things Go Down
The Calvey case bears a strong resemblance to the case against Vladimir Yevtushenkov. Yevtushenkov failed to take the hints. He was told directly what to do but refused to hand over his business. Then he was arrested and given a good talking. He and his captors came to an understanding. He was released and his business confiscated. Unlike Yevtushenkov, however, Calvey is as poor as a church mouse. Compared with Yevtushenkov, that is. Calvey does not own a Bashneft, after all.

The foot soldiers in the security forces have not been particularly surprised about how the Calvey case has unfolded. They expected something of the sort. They expected him to “cash out,” as they call it, and they believe he has, in fact, cashed out. They are uninterested in what this meant. It is not their war, and the spoils are not theirs to claim.

We should look at this more closely.

My source, whom I  trust, albeit warily, explains the obvious to me.

“All cases are business as usual except the cases in which there a phone call,” he says.

I have two questions for him right off the bat. What does he mean by “business as usual”? Who usually makes the  “phone call”?

He explains that people who follow high-profile cases and comment on them fail to take one important factor into account in their arguments. The high-profile cases are handled by another agency as it were. They involve the same players: the prosecutor’s offices, the courts, the remand prisons, and the Investigative Committee. All of them realize, however, when they are handling a special case involving the interests of high-ranking officials and elite businessmen. In these cases, they need to keep close track of which way the wind blows.

The bulk of cases are “mundane.” There is a huge number of such cases, and they can drag on forever. Take, for example, the Baltstroy case, the case of police anti-corruption investigator Boris Kolesnikov, and the case of ex-deputy culture minister Grigory Pirumov, cases that everyone has forgotten, and the Oboronservis case, the cases of the banks implicated in the so-called Russian Laundromat, and the case of Alexander Grigoriev, the man, allegedly, behind the Laundromat, who was mixed up with Putin’s cousin Igor Putin. New indictments in these cases are made all the time. More and more defendants are convicted in these cases and sent down. It never stops, but public interest in these cases is almost nil.

There are cases that collapse, however. Why does this happen?

Why was the case of ex-economics minister Alexei Ulyukayev not reviewed on appeal? Why was his prison sentence not reduced by four years during the sentencing appeal hearing? Does anyone know why? Perhaps the political spin doctors get it, but Russia’s law enforcers do not have a clue. What they understand is when an order comes down to reduce a sentence and when it does not. They leave the blabbing to the spin doctors.

Alexei Fedyarov is a former prosecutor from Chuvashia. Nowadays, he is the head of our legal department at Russia Behind Bars. He gave me permission to quote him.

“It happens. A case is going fine. In the morning, you have a meeting with your superiors. They tell you everything is great, keep pushing, you’ve got the bastards. I was handling a case against the management of the Khimprom factory in Novocheboksarsk. At briefings, I was told my group and I were doing a great job. We had done the initial investigation beautifully and now it was time to detain the suspects, remand them in custody, and put them away. I went to my office, where the city prosecutor was waiting for me. He asked me to hand over the case file. I gave him the case file and he told me it was over, I should forget it. He was personally going to deliver the case file to the head prosecutor of the republic and that would be the end of it.  There would be no supporting documentation or anything. The case really did disappear, although an hour before I had been told to push it.

“During that hour, the head prosecutor of the republic had got a message from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office. A call from a deputy prosecutor general was enough for them to take the whole thing back, despite the fact it was a big, interesting case involving illegal wiretapping throughout the company and even the local police department and the tax police office. We had found tons of recorded conversations: they recorded everything. They were trying to protect themselves and investigate other people.”

Sources of the “Telephone Call”
How does the “telephone call” work?

The “telephone call” is a conventional name for the outcome of lengthy negotiations. We see only the reflection of this process: Calvey’s arrest, his transfer to house arrest, Serebrennikov’s arrest and his release on his own recognizance, Abyzov’s arrest.

I am going to quote my anonymous source verbatim. In this instance, the way he says what he says is as important as what he says.

“Anyone can hit the brakes. It could be Bortnikov. It could be Chaika. But it is the outcome of agreements among people, not an arbitrary decision. They do not do things that way. Maybe new factors have been brought into play, but there has to be someone who wants to negotiate on behalf of the accused person, who appeals on his behalf. He would be told, ‘Okay, fine. But you have to give us such-and-such in exchange.” Then it is a matter of talking with Lebedev [Chief Justice of the Russian Supreme Court] and everything is put into reverse. It could be like, ‘We’ll give up Serebrennikov if you take the heat off Calvey.’ You see, the siloviki are not all on the same side. There is no longer one side. Not even everyone in the FSB or its departments is on the same side. The Constitutional Department fights with the Anti-Terrorism Department. It’s the same thing in the prosecutor’s office and the Investigative Committee. In the Investigative Committee, there is the group loyal to Bastrykin and then they are the boys from the North Caucasus. There are also the guys from Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, who are filthy rich but live orderly lives and are also capable of getting things done.

“Anything goes at this level. Why are you inclined to exaggerate how this works? Number One basically does not care about this stuff.”

I should try and explain.

The Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General’s Office are still at serious loggerheads. The conflict has even intensified. It is a personal conflict and a clash of business interests and a fight over resources. The amount of resources has not grown. On the contrary, there are palpably fewer resources. Relations between the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General’s Office are currently not just strained, they are intolerably strained.

In court, they take the same side, but those are the rules of the game. If a case has gone to trial, you cannot come out against your colleagues: you would be digging yourself a hole. As a prosecutor, you did not reverse the indictment. You were involved in prolonging the suspect’s custody in remand prison, and you seconded all the motions made by the case investigator. The case investigator, of course, always plays along with the prosecutor. In criminal trials, they are the prosecution.

Even the “groundlings” find it easier to make a deal. The big bosses may be at war with each other, but down on the ground, the workhorses plow away and know the score. There is no love lost for Bastrykin among Investigative Committee officers just as prosecutors are not fond of Chaika. But it is like this everywhere: people like their bosses only when they are standing right in front of them. There is a certain difference, however. Chaika and his deputies at the Prosecutor General’s Office are all former case investigators. They have paid their dues. Bastrykin does not have this background: he is not a criminologist. Their workhorses thus complain about different things. Bastrykin’s underlings complain about incompetence, while prosecutors grouse about their bosses’ passion for business.

The Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office have an innate tendency to divide up into clans, which are defined geographically: there are Circassian clans, Bashkir clans, etc. They are local fraternities of sorts, and they do not go away when someone moves and transfers to a new job. The clans are often at odds with each other. This is something you must always factor in when dealing with Russian law enforcers.

Internal disunity has also been increasing day by day in the conglomerate known as the FSB. Even mid-level officers have trouble getting along. For example, M Directorate, which oversees the Interior Ministry, the Federal Penitentiary Service, and so on, is often combined, in many regions, with the Economic Security Department, and there is a big problem with compatibility in terms of the cases they pursue. But there is also K Directorate, aka the 8th Directorate, which oversees banks and the financial system. Regarded as “blue bloods,” they are strongly disliked by other FSB officers.

“A guy from K Directorate worked out at the World Class gym where I worked out. His driver took him to work in a Maybach. Now he has transferred his membership to the gym in Zhukovka. A membership there costs 600,000 rubles a year [approx. $9,500] and the swimming pool is filled with mineral water. ‘My clients work out there,’ he said to me, ‘so I moved my membership there,'” an athlete and retired FSB veteran told me.

The FSB’s Constitutional and Anti-Terrorism Departments are a whole other story. They oversee everyone who has any dealings with the opposition and they inspire no confidence whatsoever. For example, I am flattered Kirill Serebrennikov and I are overseen by the same FSB officers. But we are overseen by officers from the Constitutional Department, while the Anti-Terrorism Department are working-class blokes who specialize in completely different cases. They were merged into a single directorate in which the Anti-Terrorism Department, supposedly, is subordinated to the Constitutional Department. Naturally, they cannot stand each other.

What about the top bosses? They are busy with other things, which is why they are in charge. They are busy with politicking and intrigues. These quiet squabbles surface as cases like the recent arrest of Colonel Kirill Cherkalin from K Directorate. Did he really take a bribe? Maybe he did: anything is possible. It is more likely, however, he was arrested as part of a war for turf, turf that has been shrinking exponentially with every passing day. Fattened cows no longer graze on this turf: there are basically no cows left to milk. The entire herd has been devoured.

What to Expect
I will quote in full the monologue my anonymous source delivered when I asked him about the future. I do no think there is any need to decode it.

“The turbulence will increase. Until all the issues with Russia’s natural gas and its transit through Ukraine are settled, Number One won’t have time for things happening here. They have been outsourced to our guys. They have been told to go and bite everyone’s heads off. They have temporary permission to do it.

“But there are few fat cats. All the money has been sent abroad. Everyone is living on loans. All of Rublyovka is up to their ears in loans. There will be searches in some people’s homes, and some folks will be ripped to shreds. There will be a lot of this kind of stuff this year. The government will be purged, too. People love this sort of thing.

“Abyzov made no impression on anyone. No one understood what it was about. The only thing people will remember is that he offered to pay a billion rubles in bail. No one will forget him and the billion rubles.

“Circumstances are such that even the system’s insiders cannot make any forecasts. The settings are changing constantly. There is no stable paradigm.

“It is like with water. At room temperature, we understand how it acts. You can stick your finger in it and blow on it. But now it is being warmed. It has not boiled yet and vaporized, but you do not know what to do with it and how it will act next.

“The tax police are busy with major shakedowns. They are kicking everyone’s ass. When we ask them why they are doing it, they reply, ‘Crimea is ours, and our job is to get people to make additional payments.’ But additional payments and penalties are different things, especially penalties meant to wipe people out. They are going after people’s last rubles.

“I have a friend who works as a business court judge on tax cases. Whereas earlier, when she would be asked why she reduced a claim from one hundred million rubles to ten million, she could have an off-the-record chat with the head judge of the court and explain she was doing it so the person could keep their business, such chats are not kosher nowadays.

“Hard times are coming. The Syrian project fell through, and Russia failed to get control of the pipeline going through Turkey. Nothing that was planned in Syria has worked out, and both the South Stream and Nord Stream projects fell through [sic]. Nor will they replace the Ukrainian transit, although that was the goal. But it impossible to exit Syria, and now they have butted their noses in Venezuela. Their luck has been bad. People’s nerves are on edge up top.

“Number One is interested only in oil and gas, and so other parties have got involved in the game. If it were up to Number One, he would crush everyone and no one would breathe another word. He probably decided the lower ranks should take care of this stuff themselves. The very top bosses are not concerned with these matters at all right now. The lower ranks are running things and a huge amount of haggling has been happening.  We are witnessing a classic turf war.”

Welcome to the magical world of turbulence in a pot of boiling water.

Olga Romanova is the director of Russia Behind Bars, a charitable foundation that aids Russian convicts and their families, people who have been victimized by the Russian justice system. Translated by the Russian Reader

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Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Long as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don

800px-Flag_of_the_Crimean_Tatar_people.svgThe Crimean Tatar national flag. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Five Crimean Tatars Sentenced to as Many as 17 Years in Prison in Rostov-on-Don
Anton Naumlyuk
Radio Svoboda
June 18, 2019

The North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don has rendered a verdict in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial.

Five Crimean Tatars were detained after searches of their homes in October 2016. They were charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that has been banned in Russia. One of the five defendants, Teimur Abdullayev, was also charged with organizing cells for the organization in Simferopol.

During closing arguments, the prosecution has asked the court to sentence the defendants to between 11 and 17 years in prison. However, except for Abdullayev, who was sentenced to 17 years in a maximum-security prison camp, the other four defendants were given longer sentences than the prosecutor had requested. Uzeir Abdullayev was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Emil Jemandenov and Ayder Saledinov were sentenced to 12 years in prison, while Rustem Ismailov was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The convicted men had pleaded innocent to the charges. Their defense team plans to appeal the verdict.

“We are not terrorists. We have not committed any crimes,” Uzeir Abdullayev said in his closing statement. “I would also like to say that the criminal case [against us] was a frame-up, a fabrication. The secret witness alone was proof of that—and he was proof of our innocence. […] I thus want to show that human rights are violated in Russia and you violate your own Constitution.”

Nearly 70 individuals have been arrested in Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014, as part of the criminal investigation into Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that is not illegal in Ukraine and most European countries. Most of the suspects and defendants in the case, include the Crimean Muslims convicted today, have been declared political prisoners by the International Memorial Society, an alliance of human rights organizations headquartered in Moscow.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Beat the Crimean Tatars, Save Russia!

simferopolThe defendants in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial in Rostov-on-Don. Photo courtesy of Crimean Solidarity and Krym.Realii

Numerous Searches Underway in Crimean Tatar Homes in Connection with “Terrorism” Case, Several Men Detained
OVD Info
June 10, 2019

Police have been carrying out numerous searches in the homes of Crimean Tatars in several Crimea towns and villages. One man has been charged with organizing a terrorist organization or involvement in one. This news was reported on the Facebook page of Crimean Solidarity activist Luftiye Zudiyeva and the movement’s official Facebook page.

It is known that four people have been detained. Eldar Kantimirov was taken from the village of Zarechnoye in an unknown direction. According to activists, he was charged with organizing a terrorist organization or involvement in one (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.2). The particulars of the case, like Kantimirov’s whereabouts and his official status in the case, are still unknown. They may have to do with the religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which has been declared a terrorist organization in Russia.

Riza Omerov, who lives in Belogorsk, was taken to FSB headquarters. His sister is married to Rustem Ismailov, a defendant in the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. Omerov has three children. His wife, who is seven months pregnant, has now gone into premature labor.

Ayder Jepparov was detained in the village of Zuya in the Belogorsk District. He was also taken to FSB headquarters.

Eskender Suleymanov was detained in Stroganovka, a village in the Simferopol District. He is the brother of Ruslan Suleymanov, a defendant in the Hizb ut-Tahrir trial. The activist was taken to FSB headquarters in Simferopol.

The homes of Ruslan Mesutov, in the village of Maly Mayak, and Lenur Halilov, chair of the religious community in the village of Izobilnoye, both located in the Alushta District, were also searched.

UPDATE. Ruslan Mesutov has been detained. Like Eldar Kantimirov, he has been accused of involvement in a terrorist organization (Russian Criminal Code Article 205.5 Part 2).

Lenur Halilov has been accused of organizing terrorist activities (Russian Criminal Code 205.5 Part 1).

Ayder Jepparov, Riza Omerov, and Eskender Suleymanov remain in police custody. It is still not known whether they have been charged as part of the criminal case.

A search has also been underway in the home of Enver Omerov, Riza Omerov’s father. FSB officers stopped his car and detained him during the night. OVD Info has been unable to ascertain whether the security forces have released him.

FSB investigator Sergei Makhnev, who has been involved in the case of the second Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir group, led the search. Makhnev has already stated Suleymanov’s case would be incorporated into this case.

UPDATE 2. Crimean Solidarity has reported that Riza Omerov, Enver Omerov, Ayder Jepparov, and Eskender Suleymanov were remanded in custody until August 5.

Russia has declared Hizb ut-Tahrir a terrorist organization. Its members have been charged and sentenced to long terms in prison only for gathering at people’s homes, reading religious books, and recruiting new members.

According to numerous experts, Hizb ut-Tahrir was wrongly declared a terrorist organization since its members in Russia have never advocated violence or been involved in terrorist attacks.

_________________________________________________

Rostov: Prosecutors Ask Court to Sentence Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir Trial Defendants to 17 Years in Prison
Krym.Realii
June 10, 2019

Our correspondent reports the prosecution in the first Simferopol Hizb Ut-Tahrir trial has asked the North Caucasus Military District Court in Rostov-on-Don to sentence the defendants to long terms in prison camps.

The prosecutor asked that Teimur Abdullayev be sentenced to 17 years, Rustem Ismailov, to 13 years, Uzeir Abdullayev and Ayder Saledinov, to 12 years, and Emil Jemadenov, to 12 years.

On October 12, 2016, five homes in Crimea were searched by police and security services. Consequently, the five men currently on trial in Rostov-on-Don were detained and charged with involvement in Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that was banned in Russia and Crimea, which Russia occupied in 2014.

On December 6, 2018, it transpired the five men had been transferred to a remand prison in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

On February 19, 2019, a secret witness was interrogated during a hearing of the Simferopol Hizb ut-Tahrir case by the North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-on-Don.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic political organization, says its mission is to unite all Muslim countries in an Islamic caliphate, but it rejects terrorism as a means of attaining their goal. They claim they have been unjustly persecuted in Russia and Crimea, which was occupied by Russia in 2014.

The Russian Supreme Court banned Hizb ut-Tahrir in 2003, placing it on a list of organizations deemed “terrorist.”

Defenders of the Crimeans convicted and arrested in the Hizb ut-Tahrir case argue they have been persecuted on religious grounds. Lawyers note that, while it has mainly been Crimean Tatars who have been persecuted by Russian law enforcement as part of the case, Ukrainian, Russians, Tajiks, Azeris, and non-Tatar Crimeans who practice Islam have also been persecuted.

International law forbids an occupying power from enforcing its own laws in occupied territory.

Translated by the Russian Reader

Entweder Gehst Du oder Ich Gehe!

friedrichshain police state.JPGGermany has begun implementing the Putinist police state in parts of Berlin to make its Russian partners feel less lonely in their pursuit of absolute tyranny. Photo by the Russian Reader

Council of Europe and Russia Reach Tentative Compromise
Deutsche Welle
May 17, 2019

Russia said it had no desire to leave the Council of Europe and was ready to pay its dues following an apparent breakthrough between Moscow and Western nations. Russia’s delegation had faced sanctions over Crimea.

France and Germany pushed through a compromise that would allow Russia to return to the Council of Europe (CoE), as foreign ministers from the 47 member states resumed their two-day summit in Helsinki.

The Russian delegation has faced sanctions at the CoE over the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. One of the measures included stripping Russia’s representatives of their voting rights, which in turn prompted them to boycott CoE plenary sessions.

On Friday, the body adopted a declaration saying “all member states should be entitled to participate on an equal basis” in the CoE. The declaration also states that its members “would welcome that delegations of all member states be able to take part” in the assembly next June.

“We do not intend to leave the Council of Europe, as some rumors would have you believe,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. “We are not evading any of our commitments, including the financial ones.”

Germany’s top diplomat Heiko Maas previously met with Lavrov on Friday. Maas said it was “good that we have agreed that Russia should stay in the CoE Parliamentary Assembly—also to give millions of Russians the protection of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Berlin has actively supported Russia’s full reinstatement into the council, but that did not come without conditions, Maas told DW.

“We have also agreed on a mechanism by which it will be possible in future to sanction members of the CoE who violate fundamental legal provisions.”

In 2017, Russia stopped its financial contributions, leaving the CoE with an annual budget hole of some €33 million ($37 million). Russia could be suspended from the body next month for not paying its membership fees.

Activists Want Russia in CoE
Human rights activists were concerned that suspending or expelling Russia from the assembly, which is a non-EU organization to uphold human rights, could have a disastrous effect on civil society in Russia. The watchdog body is in charge of electing judges for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the largest percentage of ECHR cases comes from Russia. Others worry that revoking Russia’s membership could eventually bring back capital punishment in the country.

Ukraine Warns of “Normalizing” Russia’s Actions
Ukraine responded angrily to the reconciliatory signals between Russia and France and Germany. In protest, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin decided to send his deputy to Helsinki.

In a Facebook post, Klimkin also said that ending sanctions would start the process of “normalizing” everything Russia has done.

“And if some people in Europe respond to Kremlin blackmail and hide their heads in the sand, very soon there might be nothing left of the Council of Europe and ultimately of all European values,” he said.

Thanks to Jukka Mallinen for the heads-up.

_____________________________________________

When you make endless compromises with gangsters, you end up shredding your own principles into pulp.

The Russian Federation does not honor or observe the European Convention on Human Rights in any way, shape or form, and it knows it.

Keeping it in the Council of Europe at all costs will, ultimately, ensure the collapse of democracy and the rule of law all over Europe.

Kicking it out would speed up the Putin regime’s collapse and finally spark a crisis among Russia’s elites and grassroots in which Russians would have a chance to get rid of Putin and his thugs.

But it is a job they have to do themselves. The dicey argument that human rights defenders in Russia need the European Court of Human Rights to defend human rights in Russia only postpones what has to happen sooner or later.

On the contrary, diplomatic victories like this tell the Putin regime in no uncertain terms to ratchet up the crackdowns at home and the neo-imperialist military adventures abroad, because both its own people and European democracies are too weak to call it on the carpet.

Europe doesn’t want to deal with Putin’s twenty-year-long war against democracy and human rights in Russia, despite the fact that ordinary Russians in faraway places like Yekaterinburg and Shies are fighting the regime tooth and nail

But who cares about them? Who in Europe has ever heard of Shies? How many European officials can find Yekaterinburg on a map?

This compromise gives the Kremlin the green light to crack heads in both places, if push comes to shove, knowing it has Europe firmly on its side. {TRR}

Relentless Repression in Russia: Why Londoners Are Demonstrating on January 19

Relentless repression in Russia: why we will demonstrate on Saturday 19 January
People and Nature
14 January 2019

On Saturday, January 19, we will demonstrate in London in solidarity with Russian antifascists. Eleven of them, who have been arrested, tortured, and accused of fabricated “terrorism” charges, are awaiting trial. Many others have faced a relentless campaign of persecution by officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the police, as summarized in the following article.

Please join us on Saturday to support the Russian antifascists and strengthen international solidarity against fascism, xenophobia, and state terror. Please repost and share this article.

Details of our London event here.

2018 summary

By Misha Shubin, 31 December 2018 (Original Russian text here)

I’ve also decided to sum up the year. Not my own year, but rather to remember what happened to anarchists and leftists in Russia in 2018. This post will be long, and many of you know  or heard something about the events I recount here.

But I think it is very important not to forget all this. [Note. Links from the original article to Russian-language sources are included. Links to English translations or relevant articles in English added where available. Translator.]

The Network Case

Eleven anarchists and antifascists have been arrested. They are accused of setting up a terrorist group and planning terrorist attacks. According to the Federal Security Service (FSB), they wanted to organise an armed uprising in Russia.

Almost all the evidence has been gathered on pain of torture. The detainees were beaten up. Some of them were tortured using shocks from a stationary electric dynamo, others with tasers. At least one of the accused, Dmitry Pchelintsev, was hung upside down.

The accused are Yegor Zorin, Ilya Shakursky, Vasily Kuksov, Dmitry Pchelintsev, Arman Sagynbayev, Andrei Chernov, Viktor Filinkov, Igor Shishkin, Yuli Boyarshinov, Mikhail Kulkov, and Maksim Ivankin.

What to read:

“How the FSB is manufacturing a terrorist case against antifascists in Russia”

What else you need to know about this case:

“A witness in the ‘network’ case, Ilya Kapustin, was tortured with a hand-held electric shocker.” Subsequently, he left for Finland, where he has applied for political asylum.

Viktoria Frolova, Ilya Shakursky’s girlfriend, was detained on Russia’s border with Ukraine. (Link in Russian.) Shakursky was threatened that “it would be bad” for his girlfriend if he did not make a confession.

The case of anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev

In early February 2018, anarchist Yevgeny Karakashev was arrested in Crimea [the peninsula annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014]. They brought him to the police station with a bag over his head. There were fresh bruises on his temples and his knees. On the basis of

two videos that he had uploaded to various chat forums, he was accused of making public calls for terrorist activity.

What to read:

“A rifle stock to the heart, a fist to the gut: how left-wing activists are persecuted in Crimea”

(And more in Russian.) [And a report of Karakashev’s subsequent court appearance is here.]

What else you need to know about this case:

The main prosecution witness is a former comrade of Karakashev’s.

In the autumn, 16 people from various Russian regions were summoned to the Russian Investigative Committee for interrogations. Many of them have expressed left-wing views. Some of them did not even know Karakashev.

Torture of anarchists in Chelyabinsk

Anarchists in Chelyabinsk staged an event on the night of 14–15 February in solidarity with the Network Case defendants. They displayed a banner outside the FSB headquarters and threw a flare over a fence. The banner read, “The FSB is the chief terrorist.”

Three days later, five people were arrested: Dmitry Semenov, Dmitry Tsibukovsky, Anastasia Safonova, Maksim Anfalov, and their friend Maksim. Tsibukovsky and Anfalov were beaten up and tortured with electric shockers.

Over the summer, the criminal case against theChelyabinsk anarchists was dropped.

What to read:

“The main thing at that moment, in that situation, was to come out alive”

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, a new criminal case was opened against anarchists Tsibukovsky, Safonova, Grigory Potanin, Mikhail Perkov, and Dmitry Dubovoi. This time, they were charged with vandalism during their protest of the government’s pension reform.

The broken window in United Russia’s office and torture of Svyatoslav Rechkalov

On 31 January, persons unknown broke a window at the office of United Russia [the largest party in the Russian parliament, which supports President Putin] and threw a smoke bomb. A criminal investigation into vandalism was launched. Sixteen days later, Yelena Gorban and Aleksei Kobaidze were arrested. After questioning, they were released on their own recognizance.

On 14 March, searches were conducted of the homes of anarchists from the People’s Self-

Defence organisation in connection with the case. Subsequently, Svyatoslav Rechkalov and Andrei were detained; the latter, most likely, was released.

Rechkalov was driven around the city for several hours, blindfolded. Then security services officers beat him and tortured him with electric shocks. They warned that, if he did not make the necessary confession, he would end up a defendant in the Network Case. After being tortured, Rechkalov was released. He emigrated to France.

What to read:

“The horror continues”, and “They put a bag on my head, cuffed my hands behind my back and tortured me with a taser”.

What else you need to know about this case:

In November, Rechkalov started getting threats from the FSB. (Link in Russian.)

Torture of Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin

In late April, Left Bloc activist Maksim Shulgin was detained in Tomsk. On the way to his interrogation, security service officers beat him up in their vehicle and held his face against a heater. To protect his face from burns, Shulgin put his arms against the heater

and received first- and second-degree burns. Shulgin was accused of inciting hatred towards the police after posting songs on VK [a Russian social network similar to Facebook].

Shulgin filed a complaint about his having been tortured. In late December, he was again detained. This time, law enforcers tried to choke him to force him to withdraw the accusations he had made against FSB officers.

What to read:

Arrest in April. “Is Maxim Shulgin An Extremist?” and “Tomsk resident tortured for posting songs about police on VK.”

Torture in December. (Link in Russian.)

What else you need to know about this case:

Another nine Left Bloc activists were detained with Shulgin. They were forced to make confessions under threat of torture. (Link in Russian.)

Explosion in Arkhangelsk, interrogation of anarchists and leftist activists, and torture of Vyacheslav Lukichev

On 31 October there was an explosion at the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk, set off by Mikhail Zhlobitsky [who died at the scene]. As a result, all over Russia the police detained and brought anarchists, left-wingers, and those who hold alternative political views in for so-called discussions. (Link in Russian.)

In early November, anarchist Vyacheslav Lukichev was arrested in Kaliningrad. He was accused of vindicating the explosion set off by Zhlobitsky. It was later established that after Lukichev’s arrest he was beaten by six people. He was questioned for 36 hours.

What to read:

“Vyacheslav Lukichev: interrogated for 36 hours and beaten”

What else you need to know about this case:

After the explosion, a 14-year old who, allegedly, had contact with Zhlobitsky was detained in Moscow on suspicion of planning bombings. (Link in Russian.)

What else happened this year?

■ In March, the police checked the documents of participants in a football tournament organised by antifascists. (Link in Russian.)

■ In July, police and FSB officers went to the Pryamukhino Readings [an event held annually to discuss the ideas and legacy of Mikhail Bakunin, at his birthplace in Tver Region]. The conference theme was “Revolution and Culture”. The security service officers checked participants’ passports, and then detained Artem Markin, an anarchist from Belarus. He was detained for three days for allegedly using psychotropic substances. See: “A Funny Thing Happened in Pryamukhino”.

■ In August, officers from Centre “E” [Center for Combating Extremism] turned up at the Icebreaker [Ledokol] punk festival. They arrested two people, tried to persuade them to turn informer, and asked about the People’s Self-Defence group. (Link in Russian.)

■ In October, anarchist Ilya Romanov was sentenced to five-and-a-half years on charges of incitement to terrorism. He allegedly published on Facebook a video recording of jihadists and an occult ritual featuring a puppet named Vladimir. All the indications are that the criminal case was a frame-up. See: “Meet Russian anarchist Ilya Romanov. He’s spent nearly twenty years in prison”.

■ In late December, the anarchist Aleksandr Kolchenko [from Crimea, who since 2015 has been serving a ten-year sentence in Russia on trumped-up charges] was transferred, on a formal pretext, to a punitive isolation cell, where he saw in the new year. (Link in Russian.)

Moloko plus siloviki

[Moloko is Russian for “milk”. Siloviki is a widely used term for the heads and officers of Russia’s numerous, overlapping security services, including the FSB, Centre “E”, the Russian National Guard, and the Russian Investigative Committee.]

In mid June, there was a gathering in Krasnodar of members of the collective that publishes the countercultural almanac moloko plus. Sofiko Arifdzhanova and Pavel Nikulin had planned to present the latest issue of the almanac, on the topic of revolution. On the day before the event, the police arrested Sofiko and a volunteer [who helped with printing], Anastasia Kkhukhurenko. The police would not release them and demanded a meeting with Pavel. They then forced Sofiko and Anastasia to sign an undertaking not to organise unauthorised mass gatherings and warned them about the punishments for extremist activity before releasing them

The next day, persons unknown attacked Sofiko and Pavel with pepper spray. A few hours later, at the presentation, the police arrived and confiscated almanac’s print run.

In September, there was another presentation, in Petersburg, and FSB officers turned up. In this case, everything turned out relatively peacefully. They just got up and left.

After another two weeks, there was a presentation here in Nizhny Novgorod. A few minutes after it began, officers from Centre “E” burst in, with armed back-up. Sofiko, Pavel, and I were arrested and taken to the police station. Ninety copies of the almanac were confiscated, along with some gas cylinders [sic]. Pavel was detained for two days on charges of insubordination to a police officer. The issue of moloko plus is now being checked for any indications of extremism. There is a big text about our adventures in Russian here.

I am sure I have forgotten something and so not included it. Generally speaking, that was the sort of year we had.

More on defending Russian political prisoners:

 The Rupression site

 “Convoyed”, on The Russian Reader

Thanks to People and Nature for their generous permission to republish this important article and solidarity appeal here. I have lightly edited the original text to make it hew more closely to this website’s imaginary style guide. {TRR}

Let’s Give In to Russian Blackmail

nod-constitution day-1“The Russian Constitution: The Basic Law or Legal Sabotage?” Front page of a newspaper handed out on the streets of Petersburg by memberx of NOD (National Liberation Movement) on December 12, 2018, celebrated as Constitution Day in Russia. This article argues that Russia’s current constitution, adopted in 1993, was drafted by CIA agents working under the cover of USAID. Their goal, allegedly, was to colonize Russia by subjugating its sovereignty to international law.

___________________________

Don’t Let Russia Leave the Council of Europe
Yuri Dzhibladze and Konstantin Baranov
oDR
December 13, 2018

Those who wish to punish the Kremlin for its aggressive actions in Ukraine and elsewhere are missing the target: it is not the Russian government, but the Russian public who will suffer if the country leaves the Council of Europe.

After the Kerch Strait incident, proponents of pushing Russia out of the Council of Europe seem to have got additional justification for their position in a discussion that rages in the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). In fact, the potential costs of this departure appear to be too high and far-reaching—not only for the Russian society, but for the whole of Europe.

More than four years since its delegation has been deprived of voting and participation rights in the PACE, Russia is now a step away from leaving the Council of Europe – either at its own initiative or as a result of expulsion for non-payment of its membership fees. In recent months, the situation has reached a deadlock due to an uncompromising position of both the Russian authorities and their critics in the PACE.

Those who wish to punish the Kremlin for its aggressive actions in Ukraine and elsewhere miss the target: it is not the Russian government, but the Russian public who would suffer the most should the country leave the Council of Europe. Since 1996, when Russia joined the organisation, for millions living in the country (including nationals of other states), the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has been an ultimate hope for justice, which they cannot find in Russia. In this period, almost 2,500 judgements have been delivered to Russia. In 2017 alone, the state paid over 14.5 million euros as just satisfaction to victims. The judgments have had a significant positive impact on Russian laws and judicial practice, despite their implementation being far from ideal and counting to roughly one-third of cases. Should Russia depart from the Council of Europe, the scope of human rights problems in the country will grow exponentially, including a threat of speedy reinstatement of the death penalty.

The potential consequences would go far beyond the deterioration of the internal situation. This move would not resolve the issue of the annexed Crimea or put an end to the armed conflict in Donbass. On the contrary, expelling the violating country would demonstrate the weakness of the European system of protection of human rights and the rule of law in dealing with such gross violations.

What is more, Russia’s withdrawal would definitely worsen conditions of citizens of Ukraine and other countries who are held in Russian prisons and face unfair trials, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment. It would also result in a denial of the protection of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to inhabitants of Russia-controlled Crimea. It would eliminate effective guarantees from deportation for refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Finally, the practice of expulsion of a member state might trigger other countries to leave the Council and deter Belarus from returning to a special observer’s status at the PACE.

Politicians should assume full responsibility for making the choice that may define Europe’s future and work towards a solution that would preserve the common European legal framework and space for critical dialogue aimed at promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the entire territory of Europe, including Russia.

We do not demand to “give in to blackmailing.” Lifting all restrictions on the Russian delegation in the PACE would be indeed unprincipled. However, finding a reasonable solution, in our view, would be a courageous decision to take responsibility and to advance the core values of the organisation by allowing the critical dialogue to continue. Amending the PACE rules of procedure – restricting national delegations’ rights only within the Assembly itself and not depriving them of the voting rights in elections of non-PACE mandates—including ECtHR judges, Commissioner for Human Rights and Secretary General—appears such a legally sound and reasonable solution.

Threats by Russian officials to leave the Council of Europe are not just a bluff to raise the bargaining stakes. There are many influential people in the Russian political establishment in favour of isolationist policies who actually want the country to withdraw. If a reasonable solution is not found before next spring, Russia’s authorities will not wait for the official discussion of its potential expulsion at the Committee of Ministers in June 2019 and will announce the withdrawal from the Council before.

It should be clear to everyone: Russia’s departure from the Council of Europe would not stop human rights violations and halt the authoritarian backslide in our country, or prevent the Kremlin’s aggressive behaviour in the international arena. Instead, it would put an end to a difficult struggle of Russian civil society to make Russia an important part of Europe on the basis of shared norms and values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. It will turn a large territory in Europe into a legal “grey zone” for decades to come.

The authors represent a group of Russian human rights defenders who recently issued a Memorandum on the crisis in relations between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation.

About the authors

Yuri Dzhibladze is a founder and president of Moscow-based Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights and advocacy coordinator at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. He has worked on human rights, democracy, and international organisations since the late 1980s.

Konstantin Baranov is member of the Coordinating Council and international advocacy coordinator at the Youth Human Rights Movement, an international NGO enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe. He is an expert on the protection of civil society space and fundamental freedoms in Russia and the post-Soviet area.

NB. This article was originally published by oDR under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence

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When will Russia stop behaving like the enemy of Western Europe?
Dima Vorobiev, I worked for Soviet propaganda
Quora
Answered Feb 18

Russia is not the enemy of the Western Europe. The disruptive policy of President Putin is aimed at (1) weakening the political and military dominance of the US in Europe and/or (2) full or partial acceptance by the West of the following list of Russia’s political objectives:

  • Recognition of Crimea as Russian territory
  • Total freeze on expansion of NATO. No membership for Sweden, Finland, Ukraine or Georgia.
  • No NATO bases in the Baltics, Poland, Czech republic and Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Removal of the American anti-ballistic bases in Central Europe.
  • Finlandization of Georgia, Ukraine and guarantees of such arrangement for Belarus, in case it gets a pro-Western government in the future.
  • Guarantees of unhindered land connection through Lithuania between the Russian heartland and the exclave of Kaliningrad. The unhindered transit through the Suwalki gap would be very useful for Russia as a gauge of the level of determination on the part of NATO in the case of a swift escalation in tensions.
  • Recognition of Russia’s right to permanent military presence in the Mediterranean (through bases in Syria and possibly in Libya or other places)
  • Repeal of all sanctions against Russian oligarchs, their companies and sectoral interests.

If the West won’t agree to such a new global security arrangement, the current confrontation will continue, with variations only in the level of tensions. Because of the technological gap, the Russian military-industrial complex will increasingly depend on China for high-tech components for our weapons systems. Russian economy will also be more and more streamlined to accommodate the needs of Chinese manufacturing.

This stalemate can continue for many years, unless one of the following happens:

  1. Unexpected massive deterioration of economy in Russia.
  2. Low-probability, high-impact catastrophe in the US or Europe that makes the West seek help from Russia
  3. Power shift in Russia with full revision of national policy. (Highly unlikely with President Putin still in power).

Ivan Davydov: The Russian Protest Federation

614352f5bad27acc282af798084aa5e3Protest rally in Abakan against plans to raise the retirement age. Photo by Alexander Kryazhev. Courtesy of RIA Novosti and Republic

The Russian Protest Federation: How Moscow Has Stopped Shaping the Political Agenda. Will Ordinary Russians Realize Pension Reform and Geopolitical Triumphs Are Linked?
Ivan Davydov
Republic
September 27, 2018

The people who took to the streets long ago on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue deserve the credit for the reinstatement of gubernatorial elections in Russia. It was a time that would be unimaginable now. There was no war with Ukraine. Crimea had not been annexed. No one had given Syria a second thought. It still makes you wonder why the Kremlin took fright then, albeit briefly. Instead of guessing, we should note it was the capital that led the national protest movement then, confirming yet again the centripetal nature of life in Russia. Over a 100,000 people attended the first two protest rallies in Moscow, on December 10, 2011, and February 4, 2012. Petersburg took second place, sending 25,000 people onto the streets for its February 2012 rally, but no one other city was even close. Protests took place in dozens of cities, including all the major ones, but the best the regions achieved was something on the order of 5,000 people in attendance. In most places, the average crowd numbered around a thousand people.

The opposition failed just like the regime. It transpired the national agenda and the agenda of Muscovites were the same thing. The farther you went from Moscow, the less people were worried about the issues exercising newspaper reporters. Least of all were they worried about their own real problems, about local issues, and thus there was no chance of changing things in Russia.

But the credit for transforming gubernatorial elections into something really resembling elections, albeit quite remotely, must go to the regions. The takeaway message is that the regime’s electoral fiasco in the regions on September 9 is a nationally significant event. The rank-and-file voters there, who cast their ballots for sham candidates from parties other than United Russia as a way of registering their disgust with the local political bosses, have turned circumstances inside out. The regions are now dictating their agenda to Moscow, as governors who seemed invulnerable only recently look shaky, and even Putin himself has been forced to break a sweat.

Airbag
As befits a myth, the Moscow myth that, putting it as succinctly as possible, Moscow is not the real Russia, is not true at all. But, like any good myth with life in it, it is based on real things. As I write this column, water is gurgling in the radiators of the standard Moscow high-rise where I live, because the heating season has kicked off. It is ten degrees Celsius outside, and Moscow’s tender inhabitants would freeze otherwise. Meanwhile, all the news agencies are reporting as their top news item that a place in the queue to buy the new iPhone at Moscow stores will set you back 130,000 rubles [approx. 1,700 euros]. That is expensive, of course, but you would let yourself be seen as an outdated loser at your own peril.

Muscovites protest often, although in fewer numbers than during the fair elections movement. To outsiders, however, protesting Muscovites almost always look like whimsical people who are too well off for their own good. Everyone knows Moscow has wide pavements, new subway stations, the Moscow Central Ring, and perpetual jam festivals and nonstop carnivals on Nikolskaya Street. People who live in places where even today anti-tank trenches pass for roads, and the mayor nicked the benches from the only pedestrian street (urbanism is ubiquitous nowadays, no longer a Moscow specialty) and hauled them to his summer cottage, find it really hard to take seriously people who are up in arms over a new parks whose birches were imported from Germany, and holiday lighting whose cost is roughly the same as the annual budget of an entire provice somewhere outside the Black Earth Region. The residents of “construction trailer accretions” (you will remember that during one of President Putin’s Direct Lines, the residents of a “construction trailer accretion” in Nyagan came on the air to complain) find it hard to understood people protesting so-called renovation, as in Moscow, that is, people who protest the demolition of their old residential buildings and being resettled in new buildings. For that is how it appears when geographical distance obscures the particulars.

The regime has skillfully manipulated this gap. Remember the role played by the “real guys” from the Uralvagonzavod factory during the fair elections movement, or the out-of-towners bussed into the capital for pro-Putin rallies on Poklonnaya Hill and Luzhniki Stadium. But the gap functions as yet another airbag for the Kremlin even when it makes no special effort to manipulate it. Moscow is part of Russia when we are talking about national issues and the fact those issues are debated in Moscow as well, but since any sane non-resident of Moscow believes Moscow is no part of Russia, the big issues end up being issues that exercise Muscovites, but do not interest people beyond Moscow.

The Main Political Issue
Alexei Navalny has bridged the gap slightly. His attempt to set up regional presidential campaign offices seemed absurd since everyone, including Navalny, realized he would not be allowed on the ballot and there would be no reason to campaign. He ran a campaign anyway, and his campaign offices turned into local pockets of resistance, into needles that hit a nerve with the regime while simulatneously stitching Russia together and removing Moscow’s monopoly on national politics. His campaign offices are manned by bold young people willing to take risks and good at organizing protest rallies. Of course, even now more people in Moscow attend Navalny’s protest rallies than in other cities, but people have still been taking to the streets in dozens of cities for the first time since the fair elections protests of 2011–2012. Navalny’s campaign offices splice issues that the locals get with national issues, thus producing the fabric of real politics. When I discussed the subject of this column with the editors of Republic, one of them joked Navalny was a “franchise.” The joke has a point, but the point is not offensive.

It was Vladimir Putin, however, who really turned the tide or, rather, the federal authorities, of which Putin is the living embodiment. The pension reform has made it abundantly clear the Russian authoritarian state no longer intends to be paternalist. The state has suddenly discovered what people actually liked about it was the paternalism. Or they put up with the paternalism. It is hard to say what word would be more precise. But they did not put up with it due to its victories on the geopolitical front.

The pension reform has erased the line between the big issues, debated by well-fed people in Moscow, and the real issues that constitute the lives of real people. This is quite natural, since being able to claim Russia’s miserly pensions a bit earlier in life is more important in places where life is harder. Moscow is definitely not the worse place in Russia to live. Despite the myth, Moscow is no heaven on earth, either, but the central heating has already been turned on, for example.

So, even a dull, boring, well-rehearsed formality like gubernatorial elections has become an effective tool of protest. The regime made a single mistake, a mistake to which no one would have paid attention to a year ago. (Since when has vote rigging seriously outraged people in Russia? Since days of yore? Since 2011?) The mistake set off a chain reaction. The new single nationwide election day had been a boon to the Kremlin, its young technocrats, and its not-so-young handpicked “businesslike” governors. If the elections had not taken place simultaneously everywhere, and the fiasco in the Maritime Territory had occurred at the outset of the elections season, it is not clear how powerful a victory the no-name candidates from the loyal opposition would have scored.

Maybe Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky would have had to disband their parties for fear of reprisals from the regime, since, the way they have long seen things, there is nothing more terrifying than success, and nothing more dangerous than real politics.

A Moscow municipal district council member from the opposition can easily make a coherent, meaningful speech about how the war in Syria has impacted the clumsiness of Mayor Sobyanin’s hired hands, relaying the tile in some unhappy, quiet alley for the third time in a single year. The council member’s speech would elicit laughter, and the laughter would be appropriate. But amidst the customary laughter we need to be able to discern the main question of a reemergent Russian politics.

The issue is this. Will ordinary Russians understand—and, if so, how quickly—that the pension reform (the first but not the last gift to the common folk from their beloved leaders) is part and parcel of the mighty Putin’s geopolitical triumphs, their inevitable consequence, rather than a betrayal and a rupture of the social compact, as certain confused patriotic columnists have been writing lately?

Ultimately, it is a matter of survival for Russia and for Putin. One of the two must survive. As in the films about the immortal Highlander, only one will be left standing at the end of the day.

Ivan Davydov is a liberal columnist. Translated by the Russian Reader